Tips for Caregivers: How to Get Palliative Care for Your Loved One

How to get symptom relief and comfort for your loved one—and yourself.

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Treating a serious illness can come with side effects that impact more than just the body. Symptoms can touch all areas of a person’s life, including the lives of their family members and friends.

Palliative care is a specialized medical service for people with serious, yet curable or treatable, conditions. The goal of palliative care is to help people with serious illnesses, and their loved ones, feel better physically and emotionally, and improve their quality of life. “Palliative care will help your loved one improve symptoms, have a better understanding of their illness, and help them make any decisions that they and you need help making,” says Nathan E. Goldstein, MD, a palliative care specialist at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Palliative care is available for patients at any stage of illness. It’s intended to help patients feel the best they can so they can get the treatment they need. “People who get palliative care will live years and years, and many people who get palliative care will actually be cured,” says Dr. Goldstein. Learn more about palliative care here.

To get palliative care for your loved one, talk to your doctor. Most of the time you have to ask your physician for a palliative care referral to get the services. Here’s what to ask at the appointment:

  • Ask your doctor to explain your loved one’s illness and any past, current and future treatments and procedures.
  • At the appointment, tell the doctor you are interested in palliative care for your loved one, and ask where palliative care is available in your area.
  • Ask your loved one what quality of life means to them, and relay that to the doctor. This list may include: being able to spend time with loved ones; relief from any pain and other symptoms; having the ability to make their own decisions for care and where they want to be treated (in the home vs. in the hospital).
  • Be sure the doctor is aware of any personal, religious or cultural beliefs, values or practices that are important to consider in care and treatment decisions.
  • Talk to your loved one about what treatments they may or may not want, and tell that to the doctor.

“I think the most important thing that a caregiver can do is help advocate for patients. The healthcare system is very complicated, and when patients are sick it can be very hard to navigate through it. So one of the things that you can do is make sure that your loved one gets the help that they need,” says Dr. Goldstein.

If you or your loved one are experiencing symptoms and stress at any stage, talk to your care team about your options.